Torn Apart: The Internment Diary of Mary Kobayashi by Susan Aihoshi (a Dear Canada book)

Torn Apart.jpgCitation: 
Aihoshi, S. (2012). Torn Apart: The Internment Diary of Mary Kobayashi. Scholastic Canada Ltd.

To Use or Not to Use:
A great addition to your classroom library.
For some reason I feel like diaries can be difficult read-alouds, but they can be done. This book is a valuable resource for mid-to-late elementary classrooms because Japanese Canadian internment is a relatively recent event that we rarely talk about. This book addresses it sensitively.


War, racism, loss, grief, displacement, injustice, segregation, incarceration, wrongful imprisonment.

Historical fiction (diary)


Grade Range: 
Grade 3 +

Curricular Connections:
Big Ideas:
-Grade 5 (SOCIAL STUDIES) “Canada’s policies and treatment of minority peoples have negative and positive legacies.” AND “Immigration and multiculturalism continue to shape Canadian society and identity.”
-Grade 4-9 (LANGUAGE ARTS) “Exploring text and story helps us understand ourselves and make connections to others and to the world.”

Old Curriculum:
-Grade 5 (SOCIAL STUDIES) “Assess why immigrants came to Canada, the individual challenges they faced, and their contributions to Canada.” (emphasis added)
-Grade 6 (SOCIAL STUDIES) “Compare Canadian society with the society of another country” and “describe examples of different approaches to cultural diversity in Canada and in other cultures and societies studied, such as segregation, assimilation, integration, and pluralism”.

          Mary Kobayashi receives a diary from Woodward’s department store as a twelfth birthday gift and begins documenting her life in Vancouver, British Columbia. She writes of r life at home with her parents, grandfather (Geechan), brothers, and sisters as well as her endeavors at school, Girl Guides, grass hockey, and church. In many ways, Mary is an ordinary girl, but she is about to face an extraordinary challenge. When Japan bombs Pearl Harbour, suddenly Mary and her family are seen as enemies just because they are ethnically Japanese.
Slowly more and more restrictions are put in place – the family must turn in their radios and cameras. A curfew is implemented. Her parents lose their jobs. This makes Mary and her family very sad, as they are loyal Canadians. One of Mary’s brothers even tries repeatedly to enlist in the Canadian army but is turned away because of his race. Mary’s grandfather is not naturalized and is sent away to a work camp, where he eventually dies. Her father and older brothers also have to leave. Mary’s little brother is sick and her mother is with him in the hospital when Mary and her sisters are sent to B.C.’s interior with other Japanese Canadians. They must leave their house and possessions behind; later they find out all they could not take with them has been sold to fund their own incarceration.  Although members of the family are able to rejoin one another at times, it seems they are always torn apart soon enough. In their tiny shacks the family is so cold that Mary almost burns her diary.
Like all Dear Canada books, Torn Apart features an epilogue, historical note, a glossary of non-English words and a collection of period photographs in the back.

Teaching Tips:
When talking about Japanese Canadian internment, be sure not to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors by painting an entire group as ‘bad’ and another as ‘good’. While it is tempting to tell students that Japanese Canadian people were ‘good’ but Japanese people in Japan were ‘bad’, things were not that black-and-white.

If you are looking for information on Japanese Canadian culture, history, or internment, Nikkei Place in Burnaby, B.C. is a great place to look. They host affordable field trips, and lend out educational kits to teachers (for a $40 fee). They also offer online exhibits and a digitized oral history collection (although the latter is a bit hard to navigate and difficult to hear at times).
The Discover Nikkei website also has some great lesson plans. has some useful lesson plan ideas that deal with Japanese Canadian internment; this one talks about the Japanese Canadian experience, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ideas of fairness, critical thinking, and apologizing.

Scholastic Canada offers some resources for teachers looking to use Dear Canada books like Torn Apart  in their classrooms here.

The Murakami House is a free historical site that would make a great field trip.It was home to a Japanese Canadian family before they were interned in the Second World War. The Murakami Boathouse is close to the Steveston Canning Museum in Richmond and The Bunkhouses (First Peoples’ and Chinese) are just down the boardwalk. You can also visit the shipyard and four fisherman’s stilthouses.

If you live in or near Vancouver, consider taking your class to visit Kogawa House, the childhood home of author Joy Kogawa (Kogawa was interned during the Second World War). See if Kogawa herself may be available to talk to your class. Teachers should note that this historic site serves multiple purposes, also serving as a writer’s residency. Those who are considering taking their classes to Kogawa House would do well to google a little more about the house and some of its stories first.

Teachers can have students begin their own diaries. They can also ask students to write a diary entry about a significant time in history.

Other Notes:
          The Dear Canada series is a phenomenal resource for teachers looking to integrate historical fiction into their classroom. The first-person voice s engaging and really helps students emphasize with different groups of people in situations that may be very unlike their own. The series is also relatively diverse; there are books about French immigrants, Acadians, Métis, Ukrainian internees, escaped African-American slaves, and Chinese immigrants among others. A large number of post-contact historical events are addressed. As a child, I hated history but loved these books!


You can buy Torn Apart here.


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